In the end, it all comes back to David Bowie

Artwork by Vanessa Colunga

It’s been so long since I’ve written for myself that I forgot what it feels like. I even forgot why I started this blog in the first place. Maybe to carve a quiet little place on the vast webisphere where I could tickle the infrequent writing fancy into a more purposeful invention of word combinations. Or maybe I thought having a URL with my name on it was the thing to do, and I fell in line with the rest of the scribbling world. Whatever it was then is gone now. And in its place comes something just as vague, but maybe a touch more in focus.

The last time I dared show my face here, David Bowie had just died, and I was days away from launching a publishing company that would fast become my bread and butter. I had no idea what the blind curve had in store, but I’m pretty sure I never thought it would become as successful as it’s become. In truth, if I’d thought that what I was embarking upon could lead to all this, I might have screwed things up by altering my course in preparation. Sometimes it’s better not to know how things will turn out. No, it’s always better.

I’m rewinding my brain to a day sometime back in the prehistoric 80s when slender ties and shoulder pads still roamed the earth; when the U.S.A. were still the “good guys” and the threat of nuclear annihilation hung a pall of doom o’er every long-term dream and ambition, driving too many kids to the edge of a sharp blade with the thought that oh well, we’re all going to die soon anyway; when a thirtysomething guy named David Bowie appeared on my parents’ living room TV and shook his way into my guts like a bullet of good fortune.

I’d heard the music, sure. Back in yon day, MTV used to play actual music videos, and it was impossible to escape the likes of “China Girl” and “Modern Love.” But it was on this special night, gifted to the masses by HBO like a much-needed booster shot of class and artistic grace, that I first caught a fever that would stick with me for decades. It was David Bowie’s Serious Moonlight concert film, and only hours after I finished hearing the strains of “Space Oddity” I was on the phone with the local FM hit machine asking them to play it. They didn’t, of course. When I was a child, I had no idea so much more existed on the left end of the radio band.

Not long after, I paid visit to the parental “ask and ye shall receive” counter and got my chubby fingers on an album called “Let’s Dance” and proceeded to brag to anyone who asked (and there were not too many who did, but enough to allow me to feel special) that David Bowie was my favorite singer.

I confess that by the time he sang lead vocal in a song called “This is Not America” for a movie about young American spies starring Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn—for whom I’d gained a deep affinity after seeing their work together in Taps—my musical tastes had devolved to an inexplicable passion for the likes of Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar Mellencamp. But the combination of song and onscreen drama that leapt out at me from my exposure to The Falcon and the Snowman rekindled that fire of admiration, and I was once again back on the Bowie bus.

I won’t lie and say I stuck with him through the 90s. It was a weird time for music, I’m sure you won’t disagree, and I doubt anyone would fault me for drifting away at a time when his output gave the impression of a waning force. But I never lost the connection, and I never stopped feeling that almost imperceptible comfort that came with knowing he was still there if I wanted to come back to the pool and drink.

In 2013, I found myself co-writing a book about the aforementioned Falcon and Snowman, and as I squeezed every ounce of my creative passions onto the digital page along came yet another Bowie album. The Next Day became the soundtrack to my life that year, and I honestly can’t say the book would have been any good if not for his voice speaking into my ear the whole way through.

When it was done, and when it was good, I felt I owed a debt of gratitude to Bowie for having unknowingly forged a channel between past and present that I could ride like a toboggan every time I felt the well had run dry. Not enough creative juice in the tank? Just go back and listen to some more, wave hello to my younger self, and come back full-handed with another sack of words.

And then he died, and my heart was sick, and in-between fits of self-flagellation for not having loved him every day of my life since 1983, the calendar on the wall was screaming at me, telling me I couldn’t launch my publishing company before giving it a proper christening. It only took a moment to decide. I could think of no better way to pay tribute to the guy who kept me company for all those years and never once looked at me cross-eyed for having come and gone and come again than to name it Glass Spider Publishing after one of his more obscure pieces, “Glass Spider.” (Let’s Dance Books didn’t seem to fit the bill, was unavailable, and Lazarus Books sounded a bit too … biblical.)

As I close the gap on two years in, reflecting on the successes I’ve had and wondering if it all hasn’t been some sort of divine rock ‘n roll blessing from the great beyond, I am at long last succumbing to that berating voice that tells me it’s time to start focusing on my own words again. And as I inch and pinch and scrape and shove my way back into my writing brain, his final image looks down upon me from the wall over my desk. As I stare up, I realize the odd irony that his eyes are obscured behind pupil-sized pebbles and pitiless medical wrap, unseeing, his fists pulled up below his chin in a manner that looks more like earnest hope than prayer. I think he’s telling me he’s gone away, and that I have to figure the rest out for myself without his help. And I’m telling him I may just have figured out how.

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